Here we are. Round #2. Suspense/Cockpit/Rice
A Dare is a Dare
Dared by older kids from their village, two young girls head out on what seems to be an easy task in the mysterious and forbidden Moon Valley.
Pan and Nyx were going to make it. The big ones thought they’d chicken out because they were small — and girls. But they were brave. Really brave. Besides, Glaucus did it. And Glaucus was a big, dumb idiot.
The dare was simple:
Go to Moon Valley. Grab a hand-full of forbidden, black rice from the shallows of the lake. Get back to the village before dark.
The sun was still high as they climbed to the crest of the hill that dipped down to the valley below.
Pan looked over her shoulder and grinned. Her new grown up chompers made a mockery of her smile as she said, “Looka that. We got nothin but time.”
She then pushed Nyx down a bit, so she would be the first to the top.
Auntie said, the white haired Moon Goddess Selene, came to the valley on her silver chariot long ago, claiming it for her own. With a deep, blue lake in the center, flowering trees and of course the rare, black rice, it made sense the valley was the realm of a Goddess.
But Auntie also said it was dangerous.
She warned them. “Moon Valley is for Gods, not men. Especially at night.”
But a dare is a dare. And if Glaucus could do it, the girls could too.
Rushing down the hill, eager to prove herself to the big ones, Pan headed straight for the black rice. Nyx dragged behind, bewildered by the beautiful sight. She was almost at Pan’s side when a flicker of bright light caught her eye.
Shoving a hand-full of rice into her pocket, Pan looked up. On the other side of the lake was what seemed to be a huge, silver bird laying on its belly. With wings outstretched and tail submerged in the blue waters, it was like no bird the girls had seen before.
It also appeared to be dead.
“S’not movin,” Nyx said.
The weight of the rice felt like victory in Pan’s pocket. Looking up to the still blazing sun, knowing they had a bit of time before they had to leave, she decided they should see what’s what.
Ten minutes later they stood before the thing, feeling like they’d stumbled upon a miracle.
“That’s no bird,” Pan said.
The not-bird was gigantic. With smooth skin and blunt face, it looked more like a monster catfish. But what catfish had a naked lady with long, white hair painted on its side?
“That’s Selene,” Nyx whispered.
Nyx crossed to the not-bird to touch the Goddess’s feet. Cold metal kissed the palm of her hand,.
“Just like mam’s iron pot,” she said. “But silver, like the chariot.”
Nyx looked up. High above was an open door. Next to that, a tree.
“Let’s go in,” she said.
“Are you crazy?”
“Don’t be chicken.”
Pan checked the sun. They were loosing light. “There’s no time.”
“We’ll be quick.”
In a flash Nyx was up the tree and in. Pan could do nothing but follow.
Selene may grace the outside of the beast, but inside the not-bird was cold and dank. From tail to belly, the body was filled with still water and the girls wisely went to the head, where the beast’s wide eyes stared out across the valley floor. The space was tight, covered with strange objects. Dozens of circles centered with small arrows. Things that looked like red mushroom caps. Handles, shanks. Knobs and toggles. Everything decorated with scratches and mysterious symbols.
“I’ll be,” Nyx said. “The seat of Selene.” Then slipped into one of the two chairs, facing what looked like broken water wheels.
Out the window, Pan noticed the sun dipping toward the ridge.
“We need to go. If we run we can make it back in time.”
“Just a minute.”
Nyx grabbed a wheel.
“I bet ya we’re the first ones here,” she said. “Glaucus can’t keep nothin like this secret.”
She rotated the wheel to the left. Something outside went clunk.
The girls froze.
Nyx let go of the wheel. Another clunk.
“Someone’s out there.” Pan hissed. Then ducked behind one of the chairs.
“That’s not it,” Nyx said. “Lookie here.”
She turned the wheel. Clunk. Then let go. Clunk.
Nyx smiled brightly at Pan. “See? Magic!”
The girls giggled.
“Just wait until Glaucus hears about this,” Pan sneered. “Fat idiot.”
“Yeah,” Nyx said, and was about to call him something truly wicked, when another loud clunk echoed through the space. This time, from the inside.
“What’d you do now?” Pan asked.
Once more a clunk rattled the body of the not-bird. It was followed by a heavy splash from somewhere within its belly.
Pan jumped to the door at the back of the room. Outside the sun flared one last time. Then sinking beneath the ridge-line, plunged the valley into a new night. But in that brief moment, the light lit up the surface of the water like fire, and Pan saw the serpentine ripple of something swimming toward them.
Panic hit her hard and deep. She managed to croak out a meager, “Nyx . . .” when something else, something bigger, hit them from the outside.
Nyx fell out of her chair and landed hard on the floor. With the sun gone, the room was pitch dark. Using touch as her guide, Nyx desperately crawled toward her friend, and had almost reached her, when she felt something smooth and round. Fitting just perfectly in the palm of her hand, Nyx recognized it for what it was — a human skull — and screamed.
Outside something roared. Inside, whatever was swimming in the belly of the not-bird, flopped out and shook itself off.
The girls clung to each other in the corner of the small room with the odd symbols. A place they now knew, they would never leave.
Auntie told them. They didn’t listen. All on account of a dare.
Moon Valley is for Gods, not men . . . especially at night.